Sticking With It

Pistons didn’t let lousy start fray their trust in Frank’s process
Lawrence Frank can point to the statistical evidence why the Pistons have gone 15-13 since beating Milwaukee on Feb. 3 to begin their turnaround from a 4-20 start, but without willing heads and hearts nothing else would have much mattered.

“We just continued to play, try to have fun out there, try to get better every day in practice,” Ben Gordon said after Monday’s practice, the season down to its final 14 games. “We understood what kind of season it was. It was a tough season with very few practices. We just continued to work through it and our record started to get a little bit better after that. We’re still not where we want to be yet, but it’s a work in progress.”

Gordon went through Monday’s practice and expects to be ready to play Tuesday when the Pistons host Orlando after missing the past three games with a groin strain. Rodney Stuckey, who missed weekend games with Chicago and Charlotte after leaving early in Wednesday’s win over Cleveland with a sore left hamstring, is not expected back yet. But the Pistons managed to beat Cleveland and Charlotte without Gordon and Stuckey, another measure of their progress.

“Offensively, where it was a real struggle for us to score – not that we’re a juggernaut – but in those first 24 games, maybe we scored 100 points once and it was overtime,” Frank said. “We’re playing a little bit more up-tempo. We’re attacking more and we’re playing at a little bit higher offensive level.

“It takes a while for a new group with a new system, new coaching staff, to come together. Four and 20 was part of the painful process to get where we’re at. There was no wavering. The group, to their credit, has stayed together. They come early, they stay late, they work hard. We realize we still have a lot of work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Frank spoke after Saturday’s win over Charlotte of the “trust” the Pistons displayed in the closing minutes, when they wiped out an eight-point deficit in less than two minutes to force overtime. It was emblematic of the larger sense of trust required to pull them out of their early-season spiral.

“They have to trust what we say. They have to trust in themselves,” Frank said. “They have to trust each other. They have to trust in what we do.”

It’s impossible to say how different things might have been if the Pistons had been able to play their March schedule in January. As it was, the Pistons had 19 games in the 31 days of January compared to 15 in March. The Pistons played 26 games in the season’s first 41 days, an inordinately heavy workload that left almost no time to practice. In all of January, the Pistons held five practices, a situation that would have tested the cohesion of even a veteran team with a long-tenured coach, never mind a team in transition with a first-year coach further handcuffed by cramming all of an off-season, training camp and preseason into two weeks.

“It’s all speculation, but I think it would have been in our favor to have some more days on the court,” Gordon said. “Some days to get familiar with the system. We have that now, so we just have to make the best of the few days we have left.”

The schedule becomes more compressed again now. After Wednesday’s practice, the Pistons play four games in five days and face another stretch of six games in eight days beginning with their April 12 game at Charlotte. The Pistons have only five more practice days available for the season, which ends April 26.

But this lack of practice time won’t be quite as big a handicap now as it was in December and January, when players were thinking more than reacting.

“Over time, repetition, doing it every day, guys get better and better,” Frank said. “Now we’re at a point where when we make a mistake, we know exactly what the mistake is. That’s why you have a system. If you lack a system, you never know when you’re right or when you’re wrong. It’s a credit to our players and our coaching staff, the work they put in every day. That’s why we’ve made improvement.”

That and the fact their heads and hearts stayed in it along with their arms and legs.